With new research surfacing on psychedelics and how they might be used to treat a variety of mental health issues, legislative pushes for decriminalization in areas like Denver and Chicago, and best-selling books like Michael Pollan’s “How to Change Your Mind” there is quite a buzz around the topic of psychedelics. One hot topic in the community that looks like it might be opening doors for new markets, is microdosing.
I’m sure I was introduced to the idea of microdosing, the same way many other self-proclaimed “biohackers” were introduced to it; about five years ago via a podcast with Tim Ferris, author of “The Four-Hour Work Week”, and Dr. James Fadiman, Stanford Professor. It was in this podcast that they discussed microdosing and Dr. Fadiman’s extensive study on self-case reports, and how hundreds of people had claims of increased creativity, productivity, focus, and decreases in anxiety. It basically sounded like the “Limitless” pill without the side effects. While the idea of taking a full dose of psychedelics and having a “bad trip” scared the shit of me, taking a small amount that could increase my performance and relationships really spoke to me. Upon finishing that podcast, I sent a quick message to a friend I knew could get me LSD, and thus the journey began.
By now some of you may have seen me post about the benefits of microdosing psychedelics so needless to say that journey went well. Upon the first time taking it, I headed off to the gym to begin my usual routine which always starts with a workout in the morning. About 20 minutes in it started to kick in, and I noticed I wasn’t constantly in my head and was just buzzing through my workouts without the usual neurotic thoughts streaming in and out. My energy was surging and felt like I had a strong ass cup of coffee, but I didn’t feel cracked out. Surprisingly I felt super clear and that I just had one of my best workouts to the date.
After the workout I continued on and my day only got better. At the time I was living in New York City and the city can be quite hectic, but as I moved through the streets the buzz of the city didn’t suck me in. I was much more present and became aware of things that I normally wouldn’t notice during my typical travels. I arrived at school as if I had just floated there.
On the way home I found curiosity in different things, music sounded better than it usually did, and it’s hard to describe but things looked better. It was as if they had this subtle shimmer to them, especially if the light hit it right. Upon arriving home, the feelings were beginning to slightly subside. I sat down to relax and contemplate the day. I realized that I was also way more talkative and social throughout out the days travels. This was a big sign to me as I normally feel very introverted and being social sometimes feels as if it’s a chore – not this day though. It was one of the best days I had living in New York.
So what exactly is microdosing?
Microdosing is essentially taking an extremely small amount of a normal dose of a psychedelic. Typically, it’s around 1/10th of a normal or “macrodose”, however this depends on the strain and individual’s metabolism. As they say, “if you’re feeling it, you’re not microdosing”. While there are noticeable effects and improvements like increased energy and focus, these should be subtle, and one really shouldn’t notice them until drawing attention to it or reflecting on the experience later.
How does it work?
The reason microdose users often report increased focus, creativity and decreases in anxiety is because of the mechanism. Psychedelics like psilocybin or LSD after metabolized imitate serotonin and act on the 5-HT2A receptor. Serotonin receptors are associated with a wide array of functions such as mood, focus, motivation.
For reasons still not completely understood, psilocin also increases the amount of glutamate in some regions of the brain. This is important because glutamate is a neurotransmitter, nerve cells use this chemical to communicate with each other. We can infer that this is beneficial in aiding cognition, which again might be why many reports feeling increased clarity and focused.
Another major effect of psilocin is the reduction of activity in the default mode network. The default mode network is comprised of regions of the brain that are associated with consciousness and thinking, such as the prefrontal cortex. However, psilocin reduces this activity and has shown increase activities of other areas. This is similar to what happens in states of meditation and why we might see benefits like reduced anxiety, increased connection to others and more creativity. This would explain why so many influential artists and musicians have attributed their inspiration for some of their best work to psychedelics (see “Have a nice trip or Joe Rogan).
Is it safe?
If you are similar to me, you hear something like this and think “yeah sounds great and all but what’s the catch? What are the side effects?”.
That’s the great thing about microdosing and psilocybin, is there aren’t many negative side effects. First, its toxicity level is lower than caffeine’s and is much more along the lines of substances like marijuana. Yet that doesn’t really apply to microdosing because again it’s only a fraction of what’s considered a common dose.
Another positive to highlight is that it’s not a physically addictive substance. While it’s not physically addictive one can build a tolerance to it though, which is why it is recommended to follow a standard dosing protocol that includes a day or two off to allow the tolerances to dissipate.
There are some reports that have indicated feelings of increased anxiety, lack of concentration, and feeling tired. If you find yourself experiencing this, it is likely that you have taken too much and need to dial the dosing back a little more. Every individual is different, and it is not a one size fits all. Figure out what works for you.
Lastly, microdosing is best used as a tool in conjunction with activities like mindfulness practices, working out, brain storming, and working on big projects. Set yourself up for success by finding a way to include it in a productive routine and use it intentionally. As with any tool, it needs to be used properly but when done so there’s a host of benefits. I personally love to take it in the morning before meditation, followed by an immediate workout, whether that be yoga or going for a run in the beautiful Colorado mountains.